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Top Tips to Take in the Eclipse

Are you ready to go dark? A solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks the sun. This upcoming Great American Eclipse is considered a total eclipse, and the sun will actually be covered up entirely, which is rare even in the world of space phenomena. This August 21, we’re all invited to an incredible event in the sky, with different viewpoints depending on your location. We assembled some of our favorite “eclipse tips” to help you take in the best possible celestial view.

Solar Eclipse by Willoughby Owen
Photo by Willoughby Owen

Find the Best Place to Watch

From Canada to Mexico, everyone in the Continental US should be able to have a view of this far out event. The best views, however, are found along something called the Path of Totality. This is a straight line that mirrors the line of the moon’s orbit. This means that those in this path will view the complete blackout, whereas others will see a partial solar eclipse, in which the moon simply takes a bite out of the sun. No matter where you are, the view will be amazing.

The Path of Totality crosses the entire United States, and includes Salem, Oregon, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Charleston, South Carolina. If you’re not on the Path of Totality(and even if you are), you should try to find a place to view the eclipse that offers minimal light pollution. National parks are popular, or take a drive out of the city and into the nearest vista point. If you can see city lights, you haven’t gone far enough. Round up some friends and make it a road trip!

Keep Your Eyes Safe

Your parents always told you not to stare at the sun, and we hate to say it, but they were right. Even during the eclipse, looking right up into it could still hurt your eyes unless it’s at its moment of totality. Damage called solar retinopathy could leave you with permanent damage from spots in your vision to total blindness.

You may already have “eclipse glasses,” which meet an international standard for safe solar viewing, but if not there are a couple of ways to work around using these special viewers. The first is to look away from the sun as much as possible and only look up in small glimpses. The other is to create a pinhole projector. This NASA-approved DIY project is easy, and fun to do with your kids. All you need is two pieces of heavy paper, aluminum foil, tape, and a paper clip. Cut a square into one piece of paper and tape foil over it. Poke a hole in that foil and place the second piece of paper on the ground. Holding your other paper foil-side up above it, stand with the sun behind you and view the image as it’s projected on the paper. The further away you stand, the larger the image will be. Pinhole cameras are a lot of fun any time, but especially awesome when it’s time for the eclipse! Keep those eyes safe and have fun making your pinhole camera!

Photographing the solar eclipse
Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash

Camera Gear Up

Want to snap your own eclipse shot? First off, don’t feel like you have to. Sure, you won’t be able to fit in with everyone’s shots on Instagram, but most of your friends’ pictures are sure to end up blurry and underwhelming. The full eclipse lasts for such a short amount of time that you may opt to simply enjoy it. If you can’t resist getting that shot, though, consider picking up a solar filter. This add-on piece of camera gear fits over your camera lens to help you capture the perfect moment clearly. You don’t need an expensive camera, though — with a long focal length, you can capture anything. Try combining your DSLR with a telephoto lens or teleconverter to increase your focal length. When it comes to the totality of the solar eclipse, you can remove your solar filter to take the shot or take it in with your naked eye.

If you’re going to try to use your smartphone, don’t stress — it is possible to get the perfect shot. You can actually hold your eclipse glasses over the lens to protect it, with the option to remove it during the 2.5 minute totality. Manually adjust focus, manage your expectations, and consider using a clip-on telephoto lens for your smartphone or a tripod to get the up-close, stable shot you desire.

Experience the Moment

The eclipse is a moment in time that doesn’t happen every day. Instead of trying to capture the perfect photo, why not simply enjoy the show? There’s plenty to observe without your eye behind a camera lens For example, the covering of the sun results in some incredible new shadows, reshaping the familiar into a strange new world for just minutes. You can also enjoy incredible sunset colors, at all 360 degrees. An eerie tint may occur in the sky pre-eclipse, and shadows will lengthen and change at an unusually fast rate. Keep an eye on your dog, too — animals may think night is falling. There are a number of incredible phenomena to observe, not just in the sky, but all around you. Look for shadow bands, ripples of darkness that might appear due to atmospheric refraction. Or keep an eye out for “Baily’s Beads,” which is an effect caused by the moon passing the sun, in which beads of sunlight will shine out in unique places. Try to spot the diamond ring, a single bead of light that appears around the sun. There’s more than one astrological event to look out for!

Gathering some friends or family to view together can create once-in-a-lifetime memories for everyone. Sharing the experience with your loved ones will make it a treasured memory until the next eclipse comes around. Last, share your photos both the eclipse and partygoers with the NASA-approved hashtag #Eclipse2017. Scroll through the tag and you’ll feel an incredible connection to the millions of others who spent the same minutes looking upward.

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